Military strength comparison: PLA navy vs US navy

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/23 9:23:27

A naval formation consisting of aircraft carrier Liaoning has conducted take-off and landing drills in the South China Sea on Jan. 1, 2017. The formation, which is on a "cross-sea area" training exercise, involved J-15 fighter jets, as well as several ship-borne helicopters. Photo:


When Xiao Jin'guang, a former naval commander of the People's Liberation Army, wanted to inspect a fleet base on an island 67 years ago, he could only find a fishery ship to take him there. 

With a stern expression on his face, he told his entourage, "Remember, Navy Commander Xiao Jin'guang took a fishery boat on his inspection tour on March 17, 1950." 

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was founded on April 23, 1949, in Taizhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, with just nine warships and 17 boats obtained after a unit of the Kuomintang's second coastal defense fleet defected to the PLA. In its early stages, the PLA fleet was mainly composed of wooden ships and sailing boats. 

Force modernization 

This year, on its 68th anniversary, the navy boasts aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, dozens of squadrons of destroyers, landing ships and supporting ships in its three fleets. 

The navy has several hundred combat ships larger than frigates, with a total tonnage five to six times greater than it had the 1980s. The number and tonnage of the navy's submarines are also dozens of times vaster than the early PLA Navy. 

The Pentagon's China Military Power Report 2016 states that China operates the largest number of vessels among Asian countries. 

At present, China has one aircraft-carrier the Liaoning, Type 001, a refitted ship built by Ukraine (under the former Soviet Union), but the second carrier and the first China-made aircraft carrier 001A will be launched very soon. The third, Type 002, is currently under construction in Shanghai, and 002 will be much more advanced than 001 and 001A. 

Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Center said "in order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers."

The Pentagon's report said China has five nuclear powered submarines, 53 diesel-powered attack submarines and four nuclear ballistic missile submarines which carry JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that have an estimated range of 7,200 kilometers. 

"This platform represents China's first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent," and China's new generation nuclear submarine Type 096 will be up and running in a decade, said the report. 

The PLA Navy has continued a robust surface combatant construction program of various classes of ships, including guided-missile destroyers and guided-missile frigates. The PLA Navy currently has 13 Type 052D destroyers, its most advanced guided-missile destroyer, the latest of which, the Xining was launched on January 22 2017. The new generation Type 055 is under construction and which it is believed will become a key member of China's aircraft carrier strike group in the future.

China has continued to produce Type 054A guided-missile frigates, with 27 ships, the latest of which, the Liupanshui, was launched on April 1 2017. 

These vessels provide a significant upgrade to the PLA Navy's air defense capability, "which will be critical as it expands operations into distant seas beyond the range of shore-based air defense systems," said the Pentagon's report.

Ambitious plans 

The latest official white paper about China's military, China's Military Strategy, which was released by the State Council Information Office in 2015, emphasized that China's military force has a new mission to protect China's overseas interests, and the PLA Navy will play the key role in this. 

In recent years, apart from guarding China's maritime sovereignty, the PLA Navy has executed UN anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and evacuations in warzones like Libya and Yemen. 

Rear Admiral Xu Guangyu, a senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said "in order to execute overseas missions more effectively, the PLA will need to build overseas logistic bases by cooperating with other countries."  

In September 2015, President Xi Jinping announced that the PLA would shrink its numbers by 300,000 personnel by the end of 2017, a move widely expected to result in fewer non-combat personnel and rebalancing the proportion of forces among the services in a way that will raise the relative importance the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force.

The 255,000-man navy is now organized into three fleets: North Sea (Beihai), East Sea (Donghai), and South Sea (Nanhai). Each fleet has under its command fleet aviation, support bases, flotillas, maritime garrison commands, aviation divisions and marine brigades. In times of crisis, China's merchant and fishing-ship fleets can support the navy. Main naval bases include those at Lushun, Huludao, Qingdao, Shanghai, Zhoushan, Wenzhou, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang and Yulin. 


 "The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces ca?pable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas," the mission statement of the United States Navy says. 

Data shows its dominant power 

The comprehensive power of the world's largest navy is evidenced by its overwhelming number of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, subma?rines, other warships and the branch's special forces, widely considered the most elite in the US military. 

In total, the navy has nearly 430,000 personnel, with 322,809 on the active duty and 108,789 in ready reserve as of March, according to data available on the US Navy's website. 

Considered "4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory," the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are deployed around the world, enabling the US to respond quickly to international crises and participate in joint exercises with allies. The carriers include the Enterprise class (one in commission), Nimitz class (10 in commission), and Gerald R. Ford-class (three under construction). 

Apart from aircraft carriers, the US Navy currently com?missions 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, 62 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 30 amphibious ships and 18 littoral combat ships. 

All propelled by nuclear power, its submarines cur?rently include Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (18 in commission, with four converted into guided-missile submarines), 36 Los Angeles-class attack submarines, three Seawolf-class attack submarines and 13 Virginia-class attack submarines. 

Bases across the globe

Since the end of the Cold War, its navy has continued to be a major support to US interests. Currently, the US Navy has more than half of the major warships in the world, with the largest number of aircraft carriers and other maritime battle vessels. 

While most countries' navies restrict themselves to patrolling territorial waters, the US Navy rules the open seas with bases across the globe. 

At present, the navy had 275 ships in active service, and more than 3,700 aircraft, the most in the world. And its battle-fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest fleets combined.


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